Volume 24, Issue 3
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
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Binomial coordinate compounds like English give and take are frequent in Khmer. Once the semantic motivation of these is opaque, the ones that survive are predominantly those which manifest some formal symmetry in the structure of their conjoined roots. The result is that Khmer has an enormous number of words like pell mell or zigzag, but, unlike the English examples, these have neither playful nor pejorative connotations. Moreover, the structural basis of their symmetry is neither rhyme, as in pell mell, nor ablaut, as in zigzag, but alliteration. A cursory survey of some other languages in which symmetrical reduplicative compounds exist reveals that alliteration is extremely rare outside of Southeast Asian languages. At the very least, the abundance of compounds of the spic and span type is an areal feature. But it may be that it correlates with an even more restricted typological feature as well. Khmer, like Thai, is an exclusively prefixing language. There is a well-known cognitive basis for preserving parallelism or symmetry in the backgrounded rather than the focussed portions of things that are brought together. It may be that this principle can account for the tendency to mark symmetry in the initial portion of words in a prefixing language.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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